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Digital banking can be more than just digital

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Providing a banking service that fits within the fabric of every individual lifestyle may be a far-away dream, but by effectively using data, and listening to customers, a bank can at least set off on the right trajectory, writes SHIONA BLUNDELL.

For most of us, banking is a ‘grudge purchase’. We don’t wake up in the morning and look forward to paying accounts, drawing cash from the ATM, or buying airtime. Our interactions with our bank’s call centres or branch staff generally relate to some type of problem that’s occurred.

Since the collapse of the global economy in 2008, and the multibillion dollar bailouts that ensued, our faith in banks has been shattered. Almost a decade later, they’re still struggling to regain lost trust. In the years since 2008, much has been said about the possibilities that digital presents –  to enhance distribution, address new markets, and optimise back-end processes.

Exposing transactional services in new and different ways – such as a smartphone app – is a small component of digitisation. However, in order to maximise the benefits that digitisation delivers, it is vital to capture the real opportunities that new digital technologies and platforms deliver moving forward.

So, what are the opportunities?

While all our major banks are quick to reach for catchphrases like “customer-centricity” and “user-centred design”, how many times have you received a call from your bank, asking what you would actually like from your banking relationship? How many banks are heading out ‘into the field’: understanding customer behaviours at taxi ranks, shops, community centres, offices, and everyday places that punctuate the lives of most South Africans?

We’re infatuated by the limitless possibilities of technology, but we’re failing to listen to what customers really want.

The real value of digital lies in the opportunity to move far closer to the customer, to engage in in-depth ‘customer discovery’ sessions, and at scale. It’s in analysing customer activity across all channels, challenging archaic regulation, removing complexity from customers’ experiences, and building services that provide greater convenience and address real needs.

It’s not about simply finding ways to improve internal efficiencies, or maximise external revenue streams. And it’s certainly not about rolling out the latest, new digital interfaces that we can showcase.

In the quest to become more relevant to their customer, perhaps the biggest opportunity for banks is in providing far more personalised services. Static approaches like segmentation models and LSM definitions simply do not capture the dynamic, multidimensional nature of the modern customer.

For instance, the same money transfer product may be used by mass market customers to send funds to unbanked family members, and by high net worth customers to send money to their children at school or varsity. Though it’s the same product, it’s being used by two very different customers, to satisfy very different needs. It’s only by considering the broader context that we can truly understand the customer behaviour.

Put simply, one size does not fit all. We all have a unique definition of what is acceptable in areas like security, convenience, customer service response times, or data privacy. From a technology perspective, we have different device and connectivity constraints. We have different language capabilities. From province to province, from urban to rural, our daily lives are starkly different.

Providing a banking service that perfectly fits within the fabric of every individual lifestyle may be a far-away dream, but by effectively using data, and listening to customers more closely, a bank can at least set off on the right trajectory.

As a parting thought, there’s a great example of a bank that actively listened to its customers on social media, noticing when one of its clients broadcast to his followers that he was extending his holiday. The bank took the opportunity to recommend a local accommodation provider, and arranged for a discounted stay. This kind of point-in-time, value adding engagement helps elevate the way the bank is seen by its customers – showing a caring and responsive brand personality, and generating increased customer loyalty in return.

This example represents just one of the many ways in which financial services players can use digital advancements to move closer to their customers – and ultimately elevate the relationship away from that of ‘grudge purchase’, towards more personalised, more enjoyable and valued experiences.

* Shiona Blundell, Head of Banking, Africa, Wipro Limited and Gavin Holme, Business Head, Africa, Wipro Limited

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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